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As Online Dating Gains Popularity, So Does The Risk Of Getting Scammed

Con-men and -women prey on lovelorn to get money, expensive gifts

As Christmas turns into New Year's and then Valentine's Day, many single people's thoughts turn to finding love. And an increasing amount of people turn to online dating websites for help in finding their perfect match.

As online dating becomes more popular -- Americans are expected to spend as much as $932 million on Internet dating sites in 2011 -- it also attracts a growing number of scammers eager to bilk money from unsuspecting users.

The Federal Trade Commission warns Americans to tread carefully when entering the sometimes-murky waters of online dating, where the promise of love dupes many people into opening their wallets or giving access to bank accounts or credit cards.

The FTC lays out a typical scenario:

The scam artist creates a fake profile, gains the trust of an online love interest, and then asks that person to wire money -- usually to a location outside the United States.

The warning signs you may be dealing with a scammer:

  • Wanting to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.
  • Claiming instant feelings of love.
  • Claiming to be from the United States but currently overseas.
  • Planning to visit, but being unable to do so because of a tragic event.
  • Asking for money to pay for travel, visas or other travel documents, medication, a child or other relative's hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
  • Making multiple requests for more money.

ConsumerAffairs.com has hundreds of complaints from both men and women who encountered scammers on such popular online dating sites like Match.com, Chemsitry.com, and Eharmony.com.

Mary Weston from San Mateo, California said that shortly after joining Chemistry.com, she was contacted by a man who claimed to be from nearby San Ramon, California but was currently on business in the United Kingdom.  When he started calling her and asking for money, Weston knew something was up.

After some quick investigating, Weston discovered the man was calling from Nigeria, not the U.K.  She cut off communication with him.

"Thankfully, I did not fall for his scam, and the only damages I incurred were for changing my telephone number," said Weston.

Unfortunately, some dating site users don't realize they're being scammed until it's too late.

Kathleen Marana of Iron Mountain, MI signed up for Match.com and was immediately contacted by a man who claimed to work in international logging and was overseas on business. 

"We chatted for about 2 weeks and even talked on the phone. He said he...would fly to meet me when he was done with his current job. After two weeks in Nigeria, he called me for money and said he couldn't cash his checks there. I told him to go to an international bank and stop calling me."

Marana says the man harassed her with phone calls for three weeks until she gave in and sent him more money.

"To make a long story short, he continued to come up with one story after another to scam more money out of me," said Marana.

Scammers will oftentimes ask for money to be wired to them via Western Union or Moneygram. The FTC warns consumers that wiring money to someone they haven't met is the same as sending cash.  Once it's gone, it can't be recovered.

For more information on Online Dating Scams visit OnGuardOnline.gov, the federal government's online safety website.

OnGuardOnline provides practical tips from the federal government and the technology industry to help you be on guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information.

As Online Dating Gains Popularity, So Does The Risk Of Getting Scammed Con-men and -women prey on lovelorn to get money, expensive gifts...

Match.com Hit With Class Action Lawsuit

Suit claims non-existent, expired profiles are fraudulent

A New York man has filed a class action lawsuit against popular dating site Match.com, claiming that the site deceives subscribers by showing them photos and profiles of non-paying members who can't respond to romantic advances.

Match.com allows anyone to create a profile for free, but in order to read or respond to messages, or contact potential partners, customers must sign up for a subscription with the website.

Sean McGinn, of Brooklyn, NY, alleges that this practice caused him "humiliation and disappointment" when he tried to contact non-subscribing members and never heard back from them. McGinn apparently took this to mean that his efforts had failed, when in fact his romantic interests were unable to read, let alone reply to, his messages without subscribing or re-activating an expired account. (Match.com doesn't delete profiles of members who have canceled their accounts or let them expire, further defrauding bachelors like McGinn.)

According to McGinn, the user agreement he signed when he created his account never warned him that not every profile is that of a bona fide member. McGinn asserts that Match.com "defrauds the consumer of his/her time and personal investment every time a person pays Match's subscription fee and writes to a member who wont have the ability to read what they wrote or see their profile."

McGinn, already uncomfortable with dating, has been further traumatized by his online experience. His suit says that "despite the emotional vulnerability inherent in the dating process, fraught as it is with fear of rejection and anxiety, Match defrauds the consumer of his/her time, labor, and emotional investment" by failing to inform them that non-subscribing members cannot reciprocate their sweet nothings.

McGinn's attorney, Norah Hart of Treuhaft & Zakarin, said that affected consumers "are left feeling they've been completely ignored and rejected," and said that the website's practice "could affect their romantic future."

The suit alleges counts under deceptive trade practices; fraud; negligent misrepresentation; and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which describes a vendor's promise not to break its word or deny terms that were obviously implied or read into the contract. Although McGinn has not specified the exact amount of money he is seeking, his attorneys expect the damages to be at least $5 million.

This isn't the first time that Match.com has been accused of using fraudulent practices to lure lonely souls to its homepage. In November 2005, Matthew Evans of Los Angeles accused the site of creating fake profiles and sending him "winks" from non-existent members to lure him into renewing his subscription. That suit was dismissed in 2007.

Earlier this year, Match.com competitor eHarmony was the target of a class action based on its strident anti-gay discrimination. The suit stemmed from an earlier action citing eHarmony's refusal to add "man seeking man" or "woman seeking woman" to its menu of choices. The latest claim accuses eHarmony of employing a "separate but equal" approach by creating an entirely new site — CompatiblePartners.com — rather than modifying the existing eHarmony site.

Online dating has become enormously popular over the past few years. It is estimated that over 20 million people visit an online dating service every month, and in 2006, fully 31 percent of Americans said they knew someone who had used an online dating service. A 2004 report found that internet dating sites had collected a total of $473 million in advertising revenues.

Match.com, based in Dallas, has vowed that they will "defend [the suit] vigorously."

More about online dating ...

Match.com Hit With Class Action Lawsuit...

Illinois May Require More Protection For Online Dating

A bill in the Illinois legislature would require online dating services to learn more about their members than their favorite colors and pet peeves. For instance, do they have a criminal record?

Illinois State Representative John Bradley says currently a death row inmate, an identity thief, or a con artist could be signed up for any of the online dating services and potential partners wouldn't have a clue.

Bradley's bill would require any online dating service with members in Illinois to disclose on their Web sites whether they have conducted background checks on members.

"I was shocked to learn that online dating services provide no kind of background check," Bradley said during a legislative hearing.

Bradley's legislation, which was approved by the committee and sent to the full House for consideration, is designed to give dating service customers more information about the people they may go out with. For starters, if someone has a criminal record, that would have to be noted online. Service providers who violate the act would face a $1,000 fine per violation.

Online dating services that did not want to abide by the new rule would be forced to exclude all Illinois residents from membership.

Illinois May Require More Protection For Online Daters...